Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Father Riley's homily for St. Joseph's Thanksgiving Community Service

[About 90 people from throughout Tensas Parish attended Saint Joseph's Community Thanksgiving Service this past Sunday at Christ Episcopal Church.  Everyone brought canned goods and non-perishables to be given to The Shepherd Center.  The offering was designated for The Shepherd Center.  Glorious music was provided by Cecil, Vickie, and Mary Nell. We joined our neighbors in the Parish Hall for food and fellowship following the service.  The ladies of CEC decorated the Hall and provided far more wonderful food than was needed.]
Everyone feels anxious now and then. It’s a normal emotion. Many feel nervous when faced with a problem at work, before taking a test, or making an important decision.
Anxiety is so wide spread in our society today that doctors have diagnosed several different types of anxiety disorders. People who have feelings of terror, for example, that strike suddenly and repeatedly and without warning are said to have a panic disorder.
Others have been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, or social phobia. These individuals overwhelmingly worry and are self-conscious about everyday social situations. Their worry centers on a fear of being judged by others or behaving in a way that might cause embarrassment or lead to ridicule.
Then there are those who are plagued with specific phobias like for a specific object or situation, such as heights or flying. Finally there is a generalized anxiety, which is unrealistic and excessive worry, even if there is little or nothing to worry about. These people worry simply because they have nothing to worry about!
I guess that is why J.R. Williams, a cartoonist, created the “worrywart” character in 1956 in his “Out Our Way” cartoon series, referring to someone who worries all the time especially about unimportant things. My mother must have read his series, for she would often say to my brother and to me “don’t be a worrywart,” when we would make a comment about something that was troubling us and that we had no control over.
Tonight’s reading from Matthew is a portion of Jesus’ Sermon on Mount. Jesus is warning us against anxiety, not against thoughtful planning. Our physical well-being is directly dependent on God, and only indirectly on food, drink, and clothing.
The Israelites discovered this the hard way while wandering in the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. When they were hungry they complained and God fed them with manna from heaven while they stood with their feet in the desert sand. When they got thirsty, and complained, God instructed his servant Moses to strike a certain rock and water gushed forth quenching their thirst. As far as their clothes were concerned, they did not wear out, nor did their shoes.
How much more would God have to do for them in order that they might believe in Him and learn to put their trust in His providence and give Thanks for their many blessings? We all know the answer to that question - forty years more. They were slow-learners at best. My mother would say, they were “worrywarts,” who worried all the time.
Anxiety over earthly things demonstrates a lack of faith in God’s care. In the gospel, Jesus calls us to be free from anxiety about earthly things. Instead he directs us to look to heaven, secure in the faith that God will provide needed earthly blessings, which is the very opposite of “men of little faith” who are unwilling to rest in the assurance that God cares about their lives.
Food, clothing, and shelter are basic needs. And to have them is a blessing. Sometimes I fear we overlook the many blessings we do have and so often take for granted. Like minds to think, and hearts to love, and hands to serve.
Thanksgiving brings with it many traditions, not the least of which is the traditional family meal. As a young boy I learned to look forward to the Thanksgiving meal at our house. Cousins, aunts, and uncles not seen any other time of the year would come from far and near bringing with them their favorite dish to share.
Mother would cook the turkey, along with corn bread stuffing. We would have giblet gravy and cranberry sauce and lots of deserts. Before grace was said, we would go around the table and each member of the family would share one thing they were thankful for. I had this one aunt who always brought her aspic salad. I must confess I never gave thanks for that!
Thanksgiving was always a most scrumptious meal and a time of fellowship, sharing, and laughter, a time for the family to be together. Afterwards the youngest and the oldest present would pull the wishbone and plans were made for the next year.
We are here tonight as members of God’s family gathered from throughout this community. We have gathered together to give Thanks to God in song, prayer, and praise for the many blessings received, and to remember those within our community who are in need. We come from different religious traditions but we all have one thing in common, our Faith in Jesus Christ and our Trust in God’s providence.
We come acknowledging that the world we live in is indeed an anxious place. There are so many unknowns. So much to be worried about. But the gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us not to be. Rather, Christ teaches us to place our Trust in Him, acknowledging our dependence on God alone. In Him we are freed from anxiety and fear which is the opposite of faith.
As God’s family we have many things to be Thankful for, not the least of which, is the freedom to worship the One True God and to live and witness to the new life to which we have been called in the name of Him who died and rose again, opening to us the way of everlasting life, Jesus Christ, Our Savior and Redeemer, who said to his friends then, and to his friends now, “Therefore, do not worry, saying, “what shall we eat?’ or ‘what shall we drink?’ or ‘what shall we wear?’ Your heavenly father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” AMEN+    (11/20/16)

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Christ the King homily from Father Gregg Riley, November 20, 2016


How strange it appears to end the Church’s year with the crucifixion? As if that were the end of the story. But in a way it is the end, at least of Jesus earthly ministry. But isn’t the story of Jesus’ death on the cross more appropriate at the end of Holy Week to be followed by the resurrection?
Yet we have Luke’s report of Jesus’ dying on the cross before us as we close out the Church’s year with our celebration of Christ The King. The cross appeared to be anything but a throne, especially to those who watched him die. But to one, who died alongside him, Jesus is King.
Like each of the gospels Luke has his own unique contributions to make to the story of Jesus. His greatest contribution to the Passion Narrative is the penitent thief. In addition, his gospel is the only one to report that Jesus was crucified between two thieves. In doing so Luke reminds us of life’s two ways: the way of fearing God, with a Holy fear that is, and the way of taking care of self.
Think of some of the stories Luke has shared with us through this liturgical year beginning with the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem where the people turned their backs on Mary and Joseph, but the shepherds rejoiced and believed.
More recently the ten lepers who were healed by Jesus, but only one returned to give thanks. Or that of the two men who went into the Temple to pray; one lauded his achievements before God, while the other asked for mercy.
All the way through Luke many ignore God and court disaster, but a few heed God and find mercy. Even at the cross this pattern of human choices, of alternative paths, continues. The rulers scoff, the soldiers mock, the people standby silently watching. Even one of those dying with Jesus joins the clamor.
They are being played by Satan in his continuing temptation to deter Jesus from his mission whether they realize it or not. You may recall that after Satan’s failed attempts to deter Jesus while he was fasting and praying in the wilderness in preparation for his earthly ministry, Satan withdrew until “an opportune time.” The cross was such a time. At the cross the temptations all began with that little word “if,” just like they did in the desert.
The rulers sneered saying, “he saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ, the chosen one of God.” The soldiers mocked him saying, “if you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.” But the temptation did not end there, the unrepentant thief who was dying next to Jesus blasphemed him saying, “if you are the Christ, save yourself and us.”
But there was another voice that day, one who issued a request to be remembered by Christ when he came into his kingdom. Tradition has named him Dysmas; the repentant thief who was crucified alongside of Jesus. He admitted his guilt and placed his faith in Christ. He joined the ranks of every other unprejudiced person in the gospel who acquitted Jesus of any crime against the civil power.
Dysmas becomes the only person present that day to comprehend and confess that Jesus, though he seemed to be dying and rejected, is in fact the true and righteous king. How did he come to think of Jesus as king?
Perhaps he had been present at the trial awaiting his turn and heard Pilate present him to the people as their king; in any case he would have seen the inscription, “This is Jesus King of the Jews,” over the cross. However the thief reached his conclusion Jesus welcomed it.
Even from the cross, Christ reached out to a member of fallen humanity and granted salvation with the same divine authority as with his prayer of intercession. “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Jesus has stood the meaning of “kingship” on its head. He has celebrated with the wrong people, and warned the wrong people of God’s coming judgment. Now he is hailed as king at last but in mockery. What was intended as an accusation and a mockery, however, became instead a triumphant symbol that all nations would come under the reign of Jesus the King.
His true royalty shines out in his prayer and his promise, both recorded only in Luke. Unlike the traditional martyrs, who died with a curse against their torturers, Jesus prays for their forgiveness. The intercession was not only for those who sentenced and crucified him, but for all humanity, a people who have no insight into the profound mystery of God’s salvation.
Like a king on his way to enthronement, Jesus promises a place of honor and bliss to one who requests it. The prayer shows that the promise is not to be taken as meaning that the only hope is in a life after death, vital though that of course is. Forgiveness brings the life of heaven to earth, God’s future into the present.
As we close out the Church year and stand on the threshold of another where do we stand with Jesus? What path are we choosing to walk? And where will it lead us? The promise to the repentant thief is ours if we chose to acknowledge our guilt and place our trust & faith in Him as Lord of Lords and King of Kings and live our lives accordingly.
Throughout the gospels Jesus redefines kingship. He is our king, but we have to accept him as king who reigns from the cross, and who calls us not to sit upon thrones, but paths of caring for the hungry, the sorrowful, and the persecuted.
With that said it is appropriate that we end the Church’s year with the crucifixion of Jesus as the focus of our celebration of Christ the King.  We pledge our allegiance to Him as King, as we begin another year of life in His service and under His most gracious rule. For He is the Christ, the chosen one of God, who in refusing to save himself, saved us all. AMEN+

The Mission of Christ Episcopal Chruch

+++ The mission of Christ Episcopal Church is to restore ourselves and all people in our community to unity with God and each other in Christ.


+++ We pursue our mission as we pray and worship, proclaim the Gospel, and promote justice, peace and love.


+++ Our mission is carried out through the ministry of all our members.

(Adapted from the BCP page 855)

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Father Riley's sermon for November 13, 2016

26 PENTECOST, PROPER XXVIII - C - 16   LUKE 21. 5-19

Scripture describes the “end time” in variety of ways, so that no precise chronology can be determined. The New Testament is full of references, especially in the gospels. If you are a student of scripture, then you know that Luke’s account of the “end time” is similar to that of Mark’s.

Today’s gospel contains “apocalyptic” literature - that is - language concerning the future, especially the “end time.” But there is more going on here than the “signs” that Jesus gives that will precede it.

The scene is the Temple courtyard. Jesus has just finished addressing a group of Saducees who tried to catch him in a theological vise over a question about the resurrection. It is interesting to note that the Saducees of Jesus’ day did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. Their trap failed.

Jesus then points out to his disciples a poor widow who is making her offering and contrasts hers with that of the rich. But the teaching he gives concerning the resurrection and the widow’s giving of all that she had seems to have not resonated with the disciples. Rather they appear to be more interested in the building and its beauty and strength as reflected in the massive stones that go to make up its walls.

Jesus’ response surely shocked them, along with the Saducees, and anyone else who might have been within ear shot when he said: “As for these things which you see, the days will come when there shall not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” The Saducees took note of what he said and would use it against him at a later date when he was tried before the Sanhedrin.

Naturally, his disciples wanted to know “when will this be, and what will be the signs when this is about to take place?” Before Jesus gets into the details, he first gives them a warning. “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and “The time is near!’ Do not go after them.”

I doubt that the disciples, in their naive faith, heard or understood what he said. They were more interested in the details and Jesus does not spare them. It is said that the more details that are given the more believable the report.

Don’t worry, Jesus tells them, when you hear of wars and insurrections, these things must take place, but the end will not follow immediately. In addition, he says that earthquakes, famines and plagues will occur along with cosmic displays that will frighten many people, and shake their faith, but again, the end is not yet.

Then follows a key verse that often goes over looked, before all of this occurs, Jesus tells them, you will be arrested and persecuted, that is, put on trial for your faith. The disciples are not to be perturbed by persecutions which await them from the Jews and Romans, for these will be opportunities to witness to their faith in Him. And they are not too worry about what they are to say, they will be given the right words when the time comes to make their defense.

Their discipleship will be costly. Their faith tested. Divisions will occur in their families. Many of their friends will abandon them. But the promise of God in Christ is that by their endurance they will be saved. Can we imagine that these men who had yet to fully trust and believe in Jesus as the Son of God could believe in what he was saying to them now?

Can we imagine that the naïve faith these 12 lived by could possibly grow into such a mature faith that they would be able to endure all that Jesus warned them of and then some? Looking at the first four centuries of the Church’s life and all that it endured we see that the Apostles and those who followed them indeed endured and grew in their faith.

The persecutions that dogged the Church did not stop the spread of the gospel, indeed it could not. The church was built on the blood of the martyrs, and the earliest martyrs were the Apostles. As has been noted by more than one historian the Romans subdued countless Jews following the crucifixion of Christ, but could not prevail over 12 who were unarmed with anything except the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Somewhere along their journey the disciples forsook the details and focused on the promise. They remembered His warning about being led astray, of being derailed as it were, from their mission and purpose and instead concentrated on spreading the “good news.”

Jesus was trying to prepare his friends for what lay ahead of them. They were to go before their enemies and accept their fate without defense. They were to go into an uncertain future with a naïve faith trusting in the Promise of Christ that by their endurance they would be saved.

What leads us astray today? What is it that threatens to derail us from the path God has chosen for each of us to walk?

Do we sometime get caught up in the details of life, of what’s happening to us and or what’s happening around us and loose sight of the promise? We may never have to endure such persecutions and calamities as those the early Christians endured, but most of us, if not all of us, have or will find ourselves in situations in life that will test our faith, frighten us, shake us to the core and even cause divisions in our families. In addition so-called friends will abandon us.

Don’t be swept away by fear, Jesus warned them, and don’t think for a moment that you can calculate your own survival and triumph. His warning to the 12 is just as relevant today to those is who choose to follow Him. Our faith and our trust must be in Him. Our trials will be opportunities to witness and our faith will be tempered by them.

“Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love Him.” - James 1.

God’s promises are our Hope. God’s grace gives us the Faith to live by them.  Both Faith and Hope are God’s gifts for those who truly Love Him and they enable us to embrace and hold fast to ultimate Promise of everlasting life, through Him who died and rose again, even Jesus Christ, Our Lord. AMEN+

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

2016 Diocese of Western Louisiana Convention, St. Mark's Cathedral, Shreveport

Jane and Lamar Barnett and Sam Corson attended the 2016 convention November 4th and 5th.  It is inspiring to gather with our fellow Episcopalians from throughout Louisiana.  Jane presented the work, blessings, and needs of The Shepherd Center.  St. Mark's is a gorgeous cathedral and you should visit them when you find time.

The Shepherd Center's presentation offered by Jane Barnett to let others know of the work and needs of the Shepherd Center here in St. Joseph.

My attempt to photograph inside the cathedral does not do the beauty justice.  I hope you can visit St. Mark's Cathedral in Shreveport in the near future.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Father Riley's homily for November 6, 2016

(Blog note:  Please join us for the Saint Joseph community Thanksgiving service at 5:30 pm, Sunday, November 20th in our church.  Canned and other non-perishable food donations will be accepted to be given to The Shepherd Center for distribution to those in need.  The Thanksgiving service is an activity of the Saint Joseph Ecumenical Council.)

ALL SAINTS SUNDAY -C - 16               LUKE 6: 20-31

Today we celebrate the Feast of All Saints and combine it with that of All Souls. The Feast of All Saints was originally created to commemorate the early martyrs of the Church. Thus the names of the early Christian martyrs were placed on the Church’s calendar. But as the persecutions of the first four centuries continued, the martyrs became too numerous to be mentioned individually and to have a day of commemoration assigned to each of them.
The Feast of All Saints, then, was created to commemorate all the saints who gave their lives in defense of the faith once delivered, and later, the Church added the names of those who made a significant contribution to the life of the church in their respective generations.  November 1, is the date of the Feast, and November 2 that of All Souls.
Traditionally the two are celebrated together on the Sunday following November 1. We submit the names of our loved ones and friends who have died in the faith to be remembered before God’s altar along with all the saints who have gone before us and who now stand in the greater presence of God.
All Saints Day is a Principal Feast of the Church and the only one that can be observed on the Sunday following November 1, in addition to its observance on the fixed date.
I doubt any of us consider ourselves “saints,” any more than those who were in the presence of Jesus, as he spoke to them in today’ gospel, including the disciples. The concept of a “saint” is not limited to the New Testament, but appears in the Old as well. It refers to those who remained faithful.
The scene of today’s gospel is a “level place,” according to Luke.     Jesus has just come down from the mountain where he has chosen the 12. There is a large crowd waiting for him. They have come to hear him, see him, and touch him. They have come to be cured of their diseases and infirmities and to be exercised of their demons. Luke says Jesus healed them all.
At first glance, the sermon on the plane or level place as it is called, appears to be similar to that portion of Matthew’s gospel known as the Sermon on the Mount. There are indeed similarities, but Luke’s version is shorter in the number of “blessings” and in addition he adds four “woes” that are absent in Matthew.
The “blessings” are easy to relate to. Jesus speaks to those present, including his disciples, addressing those who are “now” poor, “now” hungry, who weep “now” and who are reviled, and defamed “now.” His promise is that all who endure these various situations in this life “now” will be rewarded in the life to come when the fullness of God’s kingdom is ushered in.
The “woes” together with the “blessings” represent the reversal of values in the fulfillment of the kingdom. The “woes” appear to condemn those who live their lives in contrast to the ones Jesus is blessing. But there is a way out for those who listen - Love. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
The Love Jesus speaks of here is of the kingdom, and not of this world. It is the Love of God we as his disciple are to practice; a love that extends to those who do not deserve it - our enemies, those who hate us, who curse us, and who abuse us. The way out of a life lived in contrast to Christ’ teaching is to Love as God loves us, for we do not deserve it either.
The example Luke gives of this love in action, which is also found in Matthew, is the giving of the “coat and shirt.” Our hope is to be found in our sacrificing our earthly blessings in showing mercy to others. To “do to others as you would have them do to you.”
The “Golden Rule” that concludes today’s gospel is a minimum of Christian virtue, as it places man’s desire for goodness, as a basic standard of how to treat others. It is but the first step on the path to the perfection of virtue. This perfection, Jesus commends in a verse or two following today’s passage, where God’s mercy, rather than man’s desire, is the standard.
The point is obvious that Christ’s flock is made up of individuals who go to extremes in self-suppression and joyful endurance of wrong, who let no ill treatment deter their faith, who are willing to sacrifice all that they have and all that they are to maintain their faith and trust in God, and who demonstrate God’s love towards all. The early Church called them Saints, as does St. Paul in today’s Epistle.
Paul writes to the Church at Ephesus encouraging the young Christians there to continue in their faith in the Lord Jesus and their love towards all the saints, for their inheritance is with the saints.
“I pray,” Paul writes, “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe…”
To commemorate the memory of those “saints” we have known and loved, and who are now in the greater presence of God, along with those the Church remembers with a day on its calendar should inspire us, even urge us, to achieve fellowship with them.
As St. Bernard (12c) wrote our desire should be; “to take our place in the gathering of the Patriarchs and the ranks of the Prophets; to be at home in the assembly of the Apostles and in the numerous hosts of the martyrs; welcomed in the college of the confessors and the choirs of virgins;” in a word, to be united, not only with those we love, but in the Communion of All the Saints.
Can we see ourselves in this great company of the saints in light? Only when we have the “eyes of our hearts enlightened,” only then can we come to know what is the Hope of our calling. Pray that by God’s grace we may learn to follow their blessed example in all virtuous and godly living, so that we may come to those ineffable joys that God has prepared for those who truly Love him, through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. AMEN+